Former head of Covid-19 vaccine rollout charged with high treason 

In the days after the military plunged Myanmar into chaos by staging a coup, Dr Htar Htar Lin was getting ready to join healthcare workers across the country in the growing Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).

As the head of the country’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout she was a high profile figure, and she hoped her act of defiance would encourage others to stand up against the new regime. 

But before she announced her decision and went into hiding on February 7, there was the matter of 161m kyat (roughly $100,000) allocated for the immunisation effort sitting in a government account to deal with. 

If the money fell into the hands of the junta, it would counter efforts by activists to choke off its sources of funding.

So she set about distributing the funds to local health departments across the country, according to a colleague, who added that whatever she couldn’t distribute she returned to donors.

“She even helped grassroots staff who vaccinated people get the money,” they added. “She also tried to prevent middlemen from taking the money meant for the grassroots staff.” 

Since then, she has been one of the regime’s most wanted people; she was among the first doctors hit with an arrest warrant in the wake of the coup. 

Last week, she was caught and detained while meeting a friend, another doctor, on Nawaday street in downtown Yangon. The junta’s forces later raided her home and seized phones, computers and other devices.

They also detained her husband and made him sign a pledge at the Dagon Township Police Station. He was then released, but within two hours authorities returned to his home and took him, the couple’s seven-year-old son, and the family pet. 

“Her husband, their child and their dog were taken,” said a friend of Htar Htar Lin’s. The family’s current whereabouts are unknown. 

Htar Htar Lin is among 25 doctors who have been charged with high treason, colluding with an illegal organisation, and incitement, the junta’s Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Monday.

The report said Htar Htar Lin had failed to clear the 161m kyat balance before going on strike. 

Twenty-two of the doctors to be charged have so far evaded arrest, the report said.

The diagram naming Dr Zaw Wai Soe, Dr Htar Htar Lin and other accused doctors was published by the junta’s newspaper on June 13 and 14.

Another two doctors involved in the movement to topple the junta were arrested in Mandalay on Sunday. They are Dr Maung Maung Nyein Tun, a professor at Mandalay Medical University, and his wife Dr Swe Zin Oo from Mandalay General Hospital. 

The couple were detained after a fellow doctor informed the military of their whereabouts, according to a colleague of theirs.  

“They were arrested at a house they were staying in temporarily during their attempt to escape,” the colleague said. “I heard that an assistant doctor at a 300-bed hospital informed the military about them. That assistant doctor is non-CDM.” 

After the arrests, the Global New Light published a picture of Maung Maung Nyein Tun with bruises on his face. “The doctor was tortured,” said the colleague.

The newspaper said that Htar Htar Lin led the Public Health Team on behalf of Dr Zaw Wai Soe, the health minister for the underground National Unity Government (NUG). The junta has branded the NUG a terrorist organisation. 

Zaw Wai Soe contacted her on Signal on March 15 to ask her for help, the newspaper said, adding that she wrote speeches for him and drafted plans for the NUG’s health policy. 

He also instructed her to ask for $8m from international donors for six months’ medical expenses related to “terror acts” across the country, the report said. 

Htar Htar Lin’s colleague believes the military took particular issue with her because she prevented them from getting hold of Covid-19 funds. 

“She distributed the money to the regions and states,” they told Myanmar Now. “The rest was returned to the donors. By February 7 she had cleared all the accounts for donors. The junta wanted her because they could not get the funds in her absence.” 

The doctor never bullied less senior workers at the health department, the colleague added.

In an email in early February, she alleged that the regime wanted to try to get $75m back that was used to buy vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (SII) by “accusing” ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. 

She did not give further details but the junta has since hit Suu Kyi with corruption charges.

She also said the junta-controlled health ministry had hoped to get striking government health workers back by giving them the second dose of the SII vaccine. 

Many health workers had their first jab immediately before the coup. The second jab should be taken between four and 12 weeks later to be effective, but a large number of health workers ended up boycotting the second dose. 

“Dear partners and friends,” Htar Htar Lin wrote at the end of her email. “I may still be escaped or detained by the military while you are reading this. But I will never surrender.”


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